Sheila Grove/EriE-News Editor

ERIE, PA. — The enormity of the sadness of the world was impressed upon me as I watched Pope Francis walk alone in the rain through an empty St. Peter's Square on Friday, March 27. My heart broke for the man wearied by time and the weight of his love for the world. As my thoughts turned to Calvary, I imagined the experience of those who watched Jesus walk his lonely road. 

Pope Francis arrives for a prayer service in an
empty St. Peter's Square
at the Vatican
March 27, 2020.

CNS photo/Yara Nardi, pool via Reuters

The hour-long service streamed to the world, ending with an extraordinary blessing – “urbi et orbi” – was somber, but wonderfully hopeful. We are always hopeful when we pray. We trust that our petitions are heard by the One who loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3).

The weight Pope Francis carries is the weight that burdens us. There is uncertainty in the days ahead and we are afraid. We are missing important routines, visits with family and friends, income and esteem producing work and much more. We hear daily death tolls on the news as in times of war.

For Catholics, the burden is made heavier because we are unable to receive the Holy Eucharist and participate in the Mass in person. A priest saying Mass extends grace to us all. Spiritual Communion is real and worth experiencing. But — the next best thing to being there, is just that — the next best and not the best.

So how do we sustain ourselves? We remember that God is in charge, has a plan and loves us. “You are precious in my eyes” (Is. 43). Every hair on our head has been counted (Luke 12:7). What may feel like abandonment is not. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

Let’s not limit God by thinking we cannot place ourselves in his hands and experience profound love and even joy in our current situation. Jesus jumped in the boat with his friends. He loved them even when they scattered in the garden. Invite him into your boat and embrace things that bring joy and hope — a sunny day, a seemingly serendipitous moment and each other.

Yes, embrace each other – even at a safe distance. Despite our “physical distancing” we are very much socially connected. 

People walk by our homes and wave. Some put teddy bears in their windows for kids to find on walks. These are small things, but they are valuable. There are many big things to notice as well. Healthcare workers show up each day and put themselves at risk to care for the ill. Food industry workers and volunteers who hand out bagged meals to shoppers and the homeless put themselves on the line. People are feeding kids who can’t go to school. The list goes on and on. God is present in our connectedness.

In our own community in the Diocese of Erie, there are myriad examples of connectedness. Teachers reach out to students via Zoom lessons and FaceTime chats. Principal Jane Wagner of Blessed Sacrament School in Erie reads the morning announcements to her school family and gives special “shout-outs” to students.

Principal Jane Wagner greets the
Blessed Sacrament School community
via Facebook.
Photo/BSS Facebook

St. Joseph Catholic School in Warren held a “drive by teacher-wave day.” Here’s a link to the news story.

Principal Nancy Warner said, "It was a wonderfully uplifting experience for our St. Joseph School community and a wonderful memory made in such turbulent times."

Our Lady of Peace School in Erie hosts “A daily dose of OLP” on Facebook when teachers video-connect with students.

Meadville’s Seton Catholic School second grade teacher, Amanda Sovisky and her husband, Tom, read a daily bedtime story and pray with her students and many others throughout Meadville and outside our diocese on Facebook. “It’s good for our souls and the souls of our families,” Sovisky reflected. Parents are thrilled, also “because their kids are in their pj’s and ready for the 7:30 start time. We want them to know that we miss them. It eases the difficulty of being away from each other.”

Brandon Vogt, director of liturgy and music at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Harborcreek, streams Evening Prayer on Facebook on Wednesdays from his home. St. Peter Cathedral produced a video of the Stations of the Cross available on Facebook and their website. Gannon University is using 3D printers to make plastic face masks for health care workers.

And the Mass, the source and summit of Christian life, comes to us on our devices. On-line congregants share peace through Facebook comments. Community is built there and is happening all over the diocese every day. Our bishop and priests celebrate Mass from their homes, in their chapels and parish churches throughout each day.

God is there. We receive him — really and truly.

So, as we stay safe in our homes, working to keep others safe by respecting the directives of our bishop and our state and county authorities, we all give life as we share the love shown to us by the One who gave us the greatest example of love.

Brandon Vogt, Our Lady of Mercy
parish, Erie, leads Evening Prayer.
Contributed photo

We will celebrate that boundless love that surpasses all human understanding, in a most special way next week. Jesus came into the world to walk among us all the way to Calvary and die for us so that we may have life eternal. He rises in us each day and takes us into the love of Father and Spirit who loved us first and forever.

There is always good. There is always hope.